Class of 1962 Fall 2019 Letter

Fall 2019

Greetings Class of ’62,

I have had reason to reflect lately that the Luther that we knew is passing away. There have been so many that recently passed away, those who have given much of themselves and have made Luther a great school.  How many students had come to Luther to sing in Nordic choir or play in the Concert Band because they wanted to experience the musical leadership of Weston Noble, recognized nationally and beyond as one of the great collegiate conductors.

We lost Elwin Farwell, who was a great President.  In his inaugural address, and many times since, he predicted that Luther was headed for genuine greatness.  He was a higher education professional with a breadth of perspective to make such predictions meaningful and not merely an “encourage the troops” kind of cheap campaign talk.

Early last fall we got news that Robert Jenson was also gone.  Some faculty state that Jenson was probably the intellectually most gifted member of the faculty. While at Luther, he attracted the most gifted of students and presented them with profound challenges such as working thought Aristotle’s metaphysics, in Greek no less. His students were loyal to him and vice-versa.  I recall my first presentation at the American Academy of Religion – based on my dissertation “Christians in the Roman Army.”  It was an academic piece of work, admittedly, but one thoroughly researched.  At that meeting there was Koester from Harvard, Ramsay from Princeton, Meeks from Yale, Morton Smith from Columbia, and Jonathan Smith from Chicago.  What really elevated my spirit for this presentation was, in the front row, Robert and his wife, Blanche Jenson.  Morton Smith was there to score points and put in place the younger scholars.  His questions he thought would stop me were off – way off –and I borrowed some of Jenson’s panache when I responded “Well Professor Smith, if you really think about it…”  I had come fresh from my orals and I could actually say that I thought about it.  I thought Jenson would collapse from hysterics because I thought that would have been something he would have dragged in from his debate days at Luther.  It was great to have them both there.   

We also lost Tom Kraabel, who after taking the position of Dean was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, which had also taken J.W. Ylvisaker some time earlier.  Kraabel was, as I had written earlier in a previous class letter, a great mentor who set me on a productive path to publication.  Kraabel had not had enough time to move Luther a notch or two up.  His favorite saying was to declare that Luther’s problem was it did not know how good it really was.  

Was it necessary to bolster Luther’s faculty by such pride? Yes it was. We must not forget that in the 30s and 40s the Church nationally was contemplating removing support from one of its many church schools...and Luther was at the top of the list.  Only the work of faculty such as Preus, Qualley, and President Olson saved it.  Now perhaps the spotlight shines on other schools of the Church. One can only stand in awe of those who came before us to save the school and now it stands beyond any such threat.

As we give thanks for these giants of the early to middle twentieth century, we must not fall to the other side of the road and think that we will not see their kind ever again.  The times call forth people to meet the challenge of the new reality.  It is likewise important to recognize the many powerful members of the alumni.  If called to the challenge, the alumni would rise up and support the school that has supported them.  Coach Schweizer always said, and rightly so, that when your school looks good, you look good.

Right now however, I am thinking of a faculty member few of us knew from our years at Luther; this person is Wilfred Bunge, a Harvard grad in New Testament studies.

He was one of the faculty who came to L.C. at its time of great need.  You remember it – most of the religion faculty left and followed Gerhard Belgum to head for other schools.  Jenson stayed, Harris Kaasa came from the seminary and Carl Losen and Wifred Bunge came from someplace to answer Luther’s need for a professional religion department.  But it is the contribution of Bunge that I want to focus on today.  While a great number of the faculty gave selflessly, professionally, and importantly, it is my view that Bunge distinguished himself in giving back to his school.  He aided in researching the history of the college and celebrating the work of a number of his colleagues.  His work took the forms of history and biography.  For example he wrote Warmly Weston noting the many contributions Noble made in music and in influencing many students to make Luther their academic home.  I have spent many years in college and universities teaching and I can honestly say that celebrating a colleague’s work publically with great appreciation is quite rare.  The green-eyed monster – jealously – is alive and well behind the wall of academe.  It is a monster that we academics recognize and experience all too often.  Bunge, in telling the story of Weston Noble, went well beyond the reach of that monster celebrating Noble and simultaneously giving honor to the college for including such a talent in its faculty.

As we watch Bunge giving praise to his Alma Mater it is likewise time for Luther to recognize that in creating an alumnus like Bunge, it is also time to honor the many gifts he has given back to the college and that those gifts were given willingly.  In that recognition it is also important to see Bunge’s presence at Luther a model of mentorship for all of us to follow. 

Sic semper,

John Helgeland
1962 Class Agent
105 3rd Street N, Apt. 302
Moorhead, MN 56560-1940
[email protected]


Charles Terrill “Terry” Anderson of Waunakee, Wis., died Dec. 17, 2018, age 78.

Anne Christine (Marking) Christopherson of Decorah died July 22, 2019, age 78.

Joyce Anne (Ranum) Johnson of Inver Grove Heights, Minn., died March 31, 2019, age 80.

Gary Kessler of Bellingham, Wash., died Oct. 9, 2018.

Walter Miller of Reston, Va., died Dec. 30, 2018, age 79.

Terry Allen Sorom of Wenatchee, Wash., died, July 6, 2019, age 79.

The full obituaries of classmates listed in this letter can be found on the Luther College website at:

If you would like a printout of the obituaries listed above in their entirety mailed to you, please contact us at: [email protected], or 563-387-1509